A great horror movie makes more of an impression on the psyche than any other kind of film. Hell, even a bad horror flick can scar you for life. There’s a phrase that every seasoned horror fan loves to hear: “Have you ever seen . . . ?” For the next 31 days, John E. Meredith will unearth some of his personal favorites that fell through the cracks, that are not so obvious, the kind that might even sneak up on you while you’re trying to sleep. The Rapture. 1991, USA. Written and directed by Michael Tolkin. Starring Mimi Rogers, David Duchovny, Kimberly Cullum, James LeGros, Will Patton. The Devils. 1971, UK. Written and directed by Ken Russell. From the play by John Whiting, based on the book by Aldous Huxley. Starring Oliver Reed, Vanessa Redgrave, Gemma Jones, Dudley Sutton. Religion, for me, is too often like the cheap toilet paper that you find in gas station bathrooms: it looks like it’s going to hold up, but you press too hard and end up sticking your fingers up your own ass. This is no reflection on anyone that it works for, as I’ve got nothing but respect, even envy, for those who have found their way. I know folks who walk it like they talk it, and they are truly an inspiration to me. But I’m a faithless man. We tend to follow in the paths we were shown in the earliest years of our lives, and mine led into the godless woods. Lost in those woods, as I got older and explored deeper, I could sometimes feel the presence of something there with me. You might call it God. But it’s always felt a bit wilder and too vast to be easily contained within any particular set of beliefs, the convictions it’s instilled in me a bit too erratic to really be called faith. There is a strange kind of faith that I’ve often placed in the movies, however, and in horror movies in particular. Many horror stories are quite fantastical, involving supernatural occurrences and unexplainable events. The kinds of things I don’t see every day but sometimes wish I could. Horror movies are some of the most moral films there are, often presenting a very clear good and evil, with protagonists who have to make some kind of choice between the two. The consequences are usually rather simple: choose wrong and die. Religious stories from all faiths are often like this, full of horrific tales of death, retribution, redemption, and blood-letting. Religion, like horror, gives us a way to deal with things mysterious, fearful and fright-inducing in our lives. Sometimes, in horror, religion won’t save you, but in religion there is always the notion that human resources alone are not going to save us from the horror. Many of the films that have really moved me in some spiritual way have remained either unseen or unliked by most of the religious people in my life. This makes a lot of sense, since they already have their faith and an entire set of beliefs around it, whereas I’m always seeking mine. Most of these movies are, of course, not inherently horrific. THE SPIRIT OF THE BEEHIVE. FEARLESS. QUILLS. THE LAST TEMPTATION OF CHRIST. BROTHER SUN, SISTER MOON. WHALE RIDER. THE IRON GIANT (hey, don’t judge, it’s a very life-affirming cartoon). But a couple of them have always felt like straight-up horror movies to me, albeit horror movies about believing in God. The best of these, and the most spiritually challenging, are THE RAPTURE (1991) and THE DEVILS (1971). Roger Ebert called Michael Tolkin’s THE RAPTURE “one of the most radical, infuriating, engrossing, challenging movies” he had ever seen, and he saw a few more than most of us have. I was stunned when I first experienced it. Not merely because of the events depicted in the movie (though a few scenes did make me rewind the tape with my eyes wide), but because it ends up being a bold-ass indie movie that’s fully on the side of God. Kinda unheard of in the time that it was released. Some of the questions it was asking were criticized for being trite, like a question-and-answer pamphlet on Christianity: Is there a God? Why should I trust God? Why should I still love God when he lets all this bad shit happen? But there were no other movies tackling these ideas then, not even from Christian writers and directors. This one does it in a movie that’s not even truly “religious,” without preaching or trying to convert anyone, and yet it is thoroughly spiritual. Sharon, played by Mimi Rogers, is a living in a kind of purgatory. Each day begins at a desk, in front of a computer, no different from all the other desks and computers surrounding her, answering questions and directing phone calls in a monotonic fugue state. Each night she drugs it up and cruises the lounges with her lover, seeking partners for their passionate but yet nearly robotic orgies. In the midst of a particular sexual bacchanal one of their pick-ups asks if she has any limits. She tells him that she hasn’t found them yet, and it’s obvious that Sharon is seeking something more. Then she overhears some of her co-workers talking about a mysterious dream and other vague portents of the Rapture; that prophesied moment when Christians believe the world will end. With little warning, Sharon awakes in the middle of the night in a frenzy of disgust. She kicks her lover out of bed and strips off the sheets, explaining that they are unclean. She showers, flosses her teeth, and announces, “I need a new direction in my life. There is a God, I know it.” There’s also a desperation in her sudden new change of life, grasping for religion as readily as she had thrown herself into sex with strangers. She talks confidently about her new faith with anyone who will listen, including everyone who calls for directory assistance. When her supervisor approaches her about the length of her calls, and about her preaching to complete strangers, she replies that God made her an information operator for a reason. No, she’s not very likable, but she is compelling. When we see her again, she’s married to David Duchovny and has a young daughter. When Sharon first met Mulder he was an atheist who compared her God-seeking to an addict looking for a fix. But now all three kneel together in prayer in the middle of their living room, obviously driven by the force of Sharon’s beliefs. But those beliefs are soon to face some Job-sized trials and tribulations. Do I even want to tell you? Tell, or not tell. Okay, just this one thing . . . the whole Mulder family, including the six-year old, are convinced that the Rapture is imminent. Like, just-around-the-corner imminent. But then Mulder dies. His death seems to be the final sign for Sharon, who takes her daughter out into the desert to await the coming of the end. While the final third of THE RAPTURE could have used more special effects, they are not really the point of the film. Had Tolkin gotten his film made through a bigger studio, with a greater budget, there would undoubtedly been more spectacle in the end. But it’s unlikely that the ending would have been the same, and this one shook me. It’s very likely that, watched with a truly open heart, this film would shake believer and non-believer alike. This movie does not lose its nerve. But it’s comparatively quiet spiritual horror has nothing on the in-your-face spectacle of Ken Russell’s THE DEVILS. If this film had to choose a general theme, there would be a toss-up between sacrilege, lust, heresy, intolerance, possession, torture, rape, fanaticism, or redemption, all of them presented in the orgiastic Grand Guignol style that director Russell is known for. His kind of over-the-top doesn’t always work, but the zealous irreverence here goes really well with sexually-obsessed nuns and a studly priest destined for the fire. Warner Bros. backed the production, creating the biggest film set since their costly flop CLEOPATRA, apparently not aware of what they were getting from Russell. Due to its disturbingly violent, sexual, and religious content, it originally got an X rating in both the United States and Britain. It was outright banned in many other countries, undoubtedly those with a large Catholic population. Battles are still going on today to get this released on video with all of its naughty bits fully intact. Based partly on Aldous Huxley’s 1952 non-fiction novel THE DEVILS OF LOUDON, and the subsequent stage adaption by John Whiting, it was also heavily influenced by a garish, discordant 1969 opera of the real-life events by Krzysztof Penderecki. The film mostly takes place in the walled-up, self-governed French town of Loudon, which was ravaged by the plague shortly after the Crusades. The town’s governor has died and is ostensibly under the control of the popular, lusty Catholic priest Urbain Grandier (Oliver Reed). Grandier is as outspoken in his criticism of Cardinal Richelieu as he is in his belief that he should never, ever be celibate when there are so many fine-looking ladies just laying around in Loudon. There’s a little bit of political intrigue, with power-hungry Cardinal Richelieu pushing King Louis XIII to tear down Loudon’s walls. The king promised he wouldn’t, so Richelieu sets out on a much more devious course, involving the Grandier-obsessed, hunchbacked nun Sister Jeanne (Vanessa Redgrave). Then all hell breaks loose, giving damn-near everyone who ever held a Bible reason to be offended. Even in its various truncated forms, THE DEVILS still gives us naked nuns writhing on an altar, Sister Jeanne getting it on with Grandier as Jesus in fantasy, and an excruciating torture sequence that might even give fans of the SAW movies reason to squirm. Even when feverish blasphemy abounds, there is ultimately a human heart at the center of this film, revealed pitilessly in the final act. Grandier, shaven, humiliated, legs crushed, is dragged through the town of Loudon on his way to the funeral pyre. His utter agony cannot be denied. He has confessed to the sins of pride and to being a womanizer, but he refuses to confess to anything else, even if it might save his life. When dragged before Sister Jeanne, who has caused him to be facing the flames, he looks at her and does the unexpected. He forgives her. When I was still a married man, I was in the midst of trying to force myself into religion. It was not the way my head or my heart knew to believe, but I had committed a few sins and was set on atonement. Through a few odd circumstances, I was asked if I would write a presentation for an upcoming sermon about Men in the Bible. In essence, my words and voice would BE the sermon. Father Reid stood before the congregation, as he would always do when he was about to give his homily, and then he stepped aside. A few men came forward to read the parts I had written for them, while I read the narration. There were three figures I spoke about that morning: Joseph (Jesus’ earthly father), Saint Francis of Assisi, and Urbain Grandier. The priest of Loudon was reserved for last, and the one whose story was given the most detail. When the final words had fallen from my mouth and Grandier had reached his horrific end, I raised my eyes to look into the congregation. There were tears. See larger image The Rapture A Los Angeles telephone operator who tires of mate-swapping and turns to a religious sect for spiritual guidance. New From: $4.99 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.